How To Get Children To Focus On Homework

There are certain scenarios that every parent of an ADHD child dreads: We all cringe and hold our breath when

the school calls. We brace ourselves when we hear a teacher chasing after us, calling our name as we beat a hasty retreat to our cars after school. And we probably all suffer from mild PTSD at the mention of the word "homework."

For me, homework immediately conjures up images of the struggle to get the right assignments written down and all the right materials home to do the work. I can't tell you how often I have been overwhelmed and grumpy before we've even started the actual assignments.

For an ADHD child, focusing takes a great deal more mental energy than it does for a child without it. By the time they sit down to do their homework, ADHD children are already mentally exhausted from having to work on focusing all day at school. Keeping them on track and focusing during homework can feel a lot like trying to sit on a stack of bowling balls — they are just about everywhere but where you need them to be.

Over the years we've been raising our own ADHD child, my husband and I have realized it doesn't have to be that hard. Here are some tricks that we've used to ease the pain of homework:

1. Make Sure Your 504/IEP Addresses Homework

A 504/IEP is designed to help a child be successful. Become familiar with accommodations and modifications that can help y

our child succeed. Modified homework is a lifesaver, showing proof of understanding  without doing all assigned problems. Breaking large projects down and turning in benchmarks makes them more manageable. Keeping a set of textbooks at home ensures no forgotten materials. Tailor your 504/IEP to your child's needs.

2. Take a Break

Busy schedules and a tired child can make it seem like getting right on homework is better than waiting. But I've found that a short break — 30 minutes to an hour — doing something the child finds relaxing is a lot like pushing a reset button. Time to get something to eat and unwind restores a bit of that mental energy and makes it easier for your child to sit down, focus, and get to work.

3. Mix It Up

Don't be afraid to abandon the traditional way of doing things. Every child has subjects they enjoy and those they dread. We learned to mix it up, having a child switch back and forth doing a few problems of each at a time. Be creative in using rewards for work. A good friend's son loves to play piano: Each time he finishes an assignment, he gets play for 10 minutes. Keeping the end goal in mind helps us find creative solutions to the homework dilemma.

4. Fidgeting Helps Focus

Most ADHD kids work better with something to occupy part of their brain while the rest works on a central task. We call them fidgets. A stress ball to squeeze, gum to chew, or music playing in the background can all help focus. Don't be afraid to try different fidgets out to see what combination works best.

5. Get the Credit — You Earned It

There's nothing worse than finding out all that painstaking work you did was lost or never turned in. Find out if your school offers a digital gradebook that allows parents to see which assignments are missing. You can create a system that ensures your child's (and your) hard work gets the credit it deserves if you work with the school. An intervention teacher who collects homework and makes sure it is delivered may be the answer. Regardless of the method, communication is the key to fixing this problem.

Homework is a part of life, and problems with homework are a part of ADHD. While there may never be a day when homework is a fast, painless process in our house, staying on top of it and being willing to try the unconventional has certainly made it less traumatic for me and for my children.

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en españolLos diez mejores consejos sobre los deberes escolares

Kids are more successful in school when parents take an active interest in their homework — it shows kids that what they do is important.

Of course, helping with homework shouldn't mean spending hours hunched over a desk. Parents can be supportive by demonstrating study and organization skills, explaining a tricky problem, or just encouraging kids to take a break. And who knows? Parents might even learn a thing or two!

Here are some tips to guide the way:

  1. Know the teachersand what they're looking for. Attend school events, such as parent-teacher conferences, to meet your child's teachers. Ask about their homework policies and how you should be involved.
  2. Set up a homework-friendly area. Make sure kids have a well-lit place to complete homework. Keep supplies — paper, pencils, glue, scissors — within reach.
  3. Schedule a regular study time. Some kids work best in the afternoon, following a snack and play period; others may prefer to wait until after dinner.
  4. Help them make a plan. On heavy homework nights or when there's an especially hefty assignment to tackle, encourage your child break up the work into manageable chunks. Create a work schedule for the night if necessary — and take time for a 15-minute break every hour, if possible.
  5. Keep distractions to a minimum. This means no TV, loud music, or phone calls. (Occasionally, though, a phone call to a classmate about an assignment can be helpful.)
  6. Make sure kids do their own work. They won't learn if they don't think for themselves and make their own mistakes. Parents can make suggestions and help with directions. But it's a kid's job to do the learning.
  7. Be a motivator and monitor. Ask about assignments, quizzes, and tests. Give encouragement, check completed homework, and make yourself available for questions and concerns.
  8. Set a good example. Do your kids ever see you diligently balancing your budget or reading a book? Kids are more likely to follow their parents' examples than their advice.
  9. Praise their work and efforts. Post an aced test or art project on the refrigerator. Mention academic achievements to relatives.
  10. If there are continuing problems with homework, get help. Talk about it with your child's teacher. Some kids have trouble seeing the board and may need glasses; others might need an evaluation for a learning problem or attention disorder.

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